2. Spread across 50 states and 60 centers, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is the leading U.S. government program designed explicitly to provide support services to the nation’s small and medium manufacturers.2
a. The target constituency: Small and medium manufacturers represent 98 percent of all manufacturing enterprises in the United States. They account for two-thirds of all manufacturing employment and contribute over half of the total value added by all U.S. manufacturers.
b. Limited market alternatives: Given their small scale, limited resources, and scattered locations, many small and medium manufacturers report that private-sector alternatives to MEP are limited at best. While there are now more consulting services in most states than there were when MEP was originally established, small firms report that they cannot afford the fees of private consultancies and, in many cases, find that they do not adequately provide the type of services extended by the MEP system.3 In addition, other government programs do not focus as directly on providing technical and management advice to these small firms.
c. Reach of MEP: Since its establishment in 1989, the MEP system has continued to grow to serve U.S. small and medium manufacturers. It now reaches out to some 7,000 manufacturers a year, providing a variety of services, from short-term cost reduction through lean manufacturing to longer-term growth initiatives.
d. Diversity of the program: Given the engagement of a large number of state partners and the varying conditions in different parts of the country, there is considerable diversity in methods of operation and delivery of MEP services.
e. Focus of MEP services: MEP is focused on providing services with proven technologies and methods to existing manufacturing firms. By contrast, many of the large-scale programs to support manufacturing around the world (described in Appendix A of this report) are designed to move new technologies forward from concept to prototype to commercial production.
f. Net impact: Multiple assessments of MEP find that the program has a positive net impact, although it is important to note that not all MEP projects generate measurable returns.4
2See Chapter 2 for a description of the MEP system.
3NRC staff interviews with center directors in Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio, October-November 2012.
4See Appendix B of this report for a survey of the literature on MEP evaluation.